Toward a History of World Literature

January 7, 2017 – 12:11 am

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The challenges entailed in writing a global literary history are threefold, involving problems of definition, design, and purpose. Can the field of inquiry be defined in such a way that a meaningful history can be conceived at all? If so, could an effective organization and a manageable plan of work be devised to give concrete shape to a project of global scope? Finally, and hardest of all, could a history of world literature be written that anyone would actually want to read? In the following pages, I will seek to reach affirmative answers to these questions.

Our globalizing age makes this either the easiest or the hardest time to write a history of world literature. Until recently, the practice of literary history was so heavily dominated by national paradigms that the very idea of a global literary history would have appeared implausible and even—worse yet—uninteresting. It seemed perfectly reasonable for Ian Watt to call his study of several British novelists The Rise of the Novel rather than The Rise of the British Novel.1 A few reviewers noted that remarkably novel-like entities had been written elsewhere by such influential figures as Cervantes and Madame de Lafayette, but it was generally accepted that the British novel had a distinctive national history that could well be studied—or could even best be studied—on its own, independent of developments in France or Spain. Still less did it seem necessary to go back to Heliodorus and Apuleius, or northward to Njals Saga and eastward to The Tale of Genji. Even if one had found a way to finesse the differences between the novel, the ancient romance, the saga, and the monogatari, perhaps under the rubric of “prose fiction, ” it would have been hard to imagine that such disconnected times and places could yield anything resembling a common history, or at least any history in the linear, teleological mode implied by a phrase such as “the rise of.”

Source: muse.jhu.edu

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  • avatar Is this the worst period in the history of the world for literature? | Yahoo Answers
    • Maybe not 'worst' if you check out 'Savoy Books', 'S.Clay Wilson', Margaret Thatchers biog. that soon came out in the chip shops. There's usu. good stuff around, and people fleeing their own countries for it... Rousseau, Solzenitzyn, Hesse, Kesey. Always tensions. It does seem that history shows intense creative episodes eg Maupassant and his crew.